Pan With Us

Pan and his student Daphnis.

Pan and his student Daphnis.

Pan, the son of Hermes, is wildness personified. Depicted with a goat’s legs and horns, he roams the woodlands playing his pipes and seducing nymphs. Pan is not about subtlety; he is unabashedly primal and, like the liminal god he is, bridges the distance between the human and the animal.

It is the loss of this wildness that Robert Frost laments in his poem, “Pan With Us.”

Pan came out of the woods one day,–
His skin and his hair and his eyes were gray,
The gray of the moss of walls were they,–

And stood in the sun and looked his fill
At wooded valley and wooded hill.
He stood in the zephyr, pipes in hand,
On a height of naked pasture land;
In all the country he did command

He saw no smoke and he saw no roof.
That was well! and he stamped a hoof.
His heart knew peace, for none came here
To this lean feeding save once a year
Someone to salt the half-wild steer,

Or homespun children with clicking pails
Who see so little they tell no tales.
He tossed his pipes, too hard to teach
A new-world song, far out of reach,
For sylvan sign that the blue jay’s screech

And the whimper of hawks beside the sun
Were music enough for him, for one.
Times were changed from what they were:
Such pipes kept less of power to stir
The fruited bough of the juniper
And the fragile bluets clustered there
Than the merest aimless breath of air.

They were pipes of pagan mirth,
And the world had found new terms of worth.
He laid him down on the sun-burned earth
And raveled a flower and looked away–
Play? Play?–What should he play?